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First CBN, Then ABC Family, Now...Freeform?
October 8, 2015  | By David Hinckley  | 16 comments
 


[EDITOR'S NOTE: With this posting, we welcome yet another tenured TV writer to the TV Worth Watching family: DAVID HINCKLEY, former long-time TV and radio critic and critic at large for the New York Daily News. David used to work alongside me when I was at the Daily News, and took over TV after I left. He's a terrific and respected writer and critic, and it's a great honor to have him here beginning today -- and great fun to be on the same team once again. Please welcome him to TVWW, because we do! -- David Bianculli]

The ABC Family channel was smarter in deciding to ditch its old name than it was in picking the new one.

As of January, according to an announcement this week, ABC Family will become Freeform.

Perfectly good word. It’s just that as a means of conveying what programming to expect on a TV channel, it should come with a subtitle, which would be this:

“Huh?”

The channel’s parents, Disney, clearly and sensibly concluded they need a name that reflects what viewers actually see, which hasn’t been “family” programming in the old-school Disney sense for almost a decade.

The Fosters (left) to name one random example, is a terrific show. It’s just not High School Musical, where you can sit the whole family down with a bucket of popcorn and no one will have any questions.

ABC Family has been creating shows like that for quite a while, and it’s been an admirable pursuit.

Not every show has been ambitious, not every show has clicked, and yes, there’s been a lot of the soap-with-a-wink stuff that has made Pretty Little Liars (below) into a well-deserved social media phenomenon.

But many of these shows, like Switched At Birth or Secret Life of the American Teenager or Make It Or Break It, have taken the relatively bold step of also dealing with uncomfortable and important issues while they entertain. 

So it makes sense for the channel to adopt a name that finally breaks cleanly from its long-ago roots in Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network – even though, in one of TV’s most amusing incongruities, Freeform will still carry Robertson’s 700 Club.

One can easily envision hardcore 700 Club fans begging the Lord for absolution if they happen to tune in early and see some of the rest of what the channel carries.

In any case, the channel’s goal going forward from January presumably is to give viewers an instantly clear idea of the specific niche it seeks to carve in today’s ultra-cluttered TV universe.  

Which is where the choice of “Freeform” comes in, because the word tells you, uh, nothing.

It’s like calling yourself “Whatever.”

Dude.

In a bit of minor historical irony, “freeform” as a media term has mostly, over the years, been associated with radio.

Some 50 years ago, the FCC started requiring owners of FM radio stations to offer original content and not just simulcast sister AM stations.

Thing was, half the radio listening world didn’t even own FM radios in the 1960s, so FM station owners looked for cheap and easy ways to develop programming they weren’t at all sure anyone would listen to.

A couple of owners just hired some DJs and let them play pretty much whatever they wanted.

Liberated from the tight playlists of top-40 AM stations like WABC, these jocks would play 11-minute songs, read poetry, mix jazz with country and rock, spin “underground” music and generally have a fine old time creating their own symphonies.

Most of it didn’t last. FM caught on so fast that corporate owners quickly started instituting tighter, more marketable formats.

But the romance of freeform lives on, and it’s still practiced today on a handful of college radio stations.

It is an absolute certainty nothing even remotely resembling that notion of “freeform” will be seen on the new Freeform television channel.

Now maybe the channel’s target audience will see the word and immediately get it. They’ve had practice with amorphous TV names, since two of the other recently unveiled new channels targeting younger demos are called Fusion and Pivot.

Which are about what? Thai-Mexican cooking? A Knicks forward drawing a foul for a neat move in the paint?

Better guess: Somewhere up in corporate marketing, they’ve concluded the next generation of potential TV viewers just responds to random words that score well in focus groups. No literal meaning necessary.  

Supporting that theory is the fact that management of the new Freeform channel refers to its target audience as “Becomers.”

Which could just as easily be Twitter generation shorthand for “Beachcombers.”

Happily, if the new channel keeps delivering good shows, Becomers and beachcombers alike should tune in to watch.

 
 
 
 
 
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16 Comments
 
 
IB WOH'K
As an atheist, I'm offended by your mockery. Your delusions are no better than theirs (Xtians) I just surfed onto 700 Club. Have a little respect! The gentleman is lovely, promotes good values and it's a pity the low-basement tripe that channel has become! The disclaimer at the end is more of an insult & Trump ought to buy TV channels and get rid of lib crap.
Mar 22, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
Danny Mizrahi
Just realized that you made your way here. Welcome to the site. The Daily News tv/radio section was the first place I used to go. Now its TV Worth Watching. Maybe David could start a little radio section on the site?
Nov 1, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
Carol Miller
Great article- and congrats to David Hinkley!---will be telling people......
Oct 14, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Hi Carol,
Thanks! And here I had thought that radio was the medium where one was guaranteed eventually to get fired.
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
 
Sally W.
Welcome to TVWW, David Hinckley! I missed reading you in the NY Daily News. ABC Family's new name is puzzling, even if I understand why they're changing it. It's as if they didn't do enough polling on something that sounds better... but that may be my opinion on that!
Oct 13, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Hi Sally,
Thanks. Yeah, a new name isn't a bad idea, but this one seems odd.
Best,
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
 
Great to have you back David.
Oct 11, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Hi Steve,
Thanks. Nice to be back.
Best,
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
 
Pat Alder
Nice to once again have " must read" reading! Hinkley was where I went to in the other paper, now he's here, here is where I will be! To comment on the article, I seldom watch network TV much less ABC. I am a "becomer"... I have become attached to my Roku, Amazon , You Tube and Netflix. I love documentaries and no network has them, save PBS. So family drama, is not my thing. Maybe "Downton Abbey" and mores the pity when that ends!
Oct 11, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Hi Pat,
At the risk of sounding hopelessly old -- in other words, what I am -- when did you find out you were a "becomer"? Is it a standard term for your generation?
But your points are excellent. Most of the folks I know who are under 35 get a huge amount of their "TV" from services that can provide it when you want it. Hard to argue with that, actually.
Sadly, a lot of traditional TV seems to feel that a Kardashians reality show is all the documentary that most viewers want.
Best,
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
 
The "next generation of potential TV watchers" is generally not watching linear scheduled television - they're watching individual shows on other services. And even though most of those shows still carry commercials, once advertisers figure out that there's no there there left on cable TV, it will be the end of the 300-channel universe. But that's not necessarily a bad thing since the average cable TV owner watches no more than 25 channels.

Oh yeah, and good to see you here David.
Oct 10, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Hi Martin,
Thanks. And your assessment seems increasingly spot-on. I suspect a whole lot of viewers, especially younger ones, think much more in terms of individual shows than with the network that carries them, with a handful of possible exceptions like ESPN.
John Landgraf of FX said this summer he thinks there's "too much TV," and while that's not exactly the same point, I wonder if it could well lead to the same end -- a contraction of some channels that are either too niche-y or redundant.
Best,
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
 
Bill Woods
David...good luck sir.
Oct 10, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Sir,
Thanks, and to you as well.
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
 
Christina Lyczkowski
I read the New York Radio Message Board every morning and found David Hinckley here. Thank you ever so much!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oct 10, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Hi Christina,
Thanks for the note. It's a first-rate message board, isn't it?
Best,
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
 
Lou Kasman
WELCOME BACK!!!!
Oct 10, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
wes richards
that should be "ret," not "tet."
Oct 10, 2015   |  Reply
 
 
Happy to see David land somewhere. He was the only reason and a legion of radio types read the NYDN in recent years. Wes Richards (Bloomberg, NBC, WRFM, WOR, tet.)
Oct 10, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Hi Wes,
Thanks for the note. It's sad that radio coverage eventually got squeezed out. It always perplexed me that almost everyone listens to the radio and almost no one writes about it.
Best,
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
 
andi
strange - but welcome back, David - we love your stuff! :D
Oct 9, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Hi Andi,
Thanks. It's a cozier room, but a nice place to be.
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
 
Andy Blatt
I am always bemoaning the fact that I do not read enough, because I think conventional TV is not worthy of my time and attention. However, it appears we are are a family of Netflix, Hulu (limited commercials) and Amazon Prime, affording us the ability to watch much of the new and independent productions that exist at the current time. On Netflix I have been watching The Inbetweeners, the BBC show Space with Simon Pegg on Hulu
and on Amazon, the former Comedy Central show, The Workaholics. Nothing too earth-shattering or substantial but entertaining nonetheless. I wonder what the figures are for "free" Hulu vs. limited commercials-Hulu or no-commercial-Hulu at $11.99 and how does everyone feel about the $1 increase in Netflix?
Don't make me choose but I am glad I have the luxury of choice.
Oct 9, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Hi Andy,
Excellent question about whether Hulu sells more commercial-free subscriptions or whether people will put up with commercials to save $12. Purely based on anecdotal comments from my TV-watching friends, I think they get spoiled very quickly by any kind of viewing with no commercials, whether it's pay channels, fast-forwarding on their DVRs or a subscription service. They tell me commercials seem way more intrusive when you're used to a show without them -- especially on a network show where they backload a half dozen commercials into the last 20 minutes.
There's some good stuff out there on TV, particularly -- as you say -- with the expanded universe and a lot more choices. For what it's worth, I regularly think I ought to read more, too.
Best,
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
 
Welcome back David! We in the old time radio community were very upset to see you go from The Daily News but it's nice to know you've landed on your feet. I posted this to the Friends of Old Time Radio Facebook Page so your friends there can find you.

All our best forever oh final winner of the Allen Rockford Award,

Sean Dougherty
Friends of Old Time Radio
Oct 8, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Hi Sean,
Thanks for the note. I'd like to think OTR will always have a place, too.
Best,
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
 
Patrick
ABC Family, Freeform, or whatever they call themselves in the future, will still be stuck carrying "The 700 Club". If I recall correctly, when CBN first sold The Family Channel to Fox, a clause was added to the sale stating that Fox, and whoever owned the channel after Fox, would have to carry that show. In perpetuity.
Oct 8, 2015   |  Reply
 
David Hinckley
Hi Patrick,
That's kind of romantic in an odd way. Like some 12th century British land grant where the owner of the property still has to pay two farthings and a pig to the king every year.
David
Oct 17, 2015
 
 
Martin
Wow, people will then be forced to watch the 700 Club in perpetuity because they have no other viewing options.
Oct 9, 2015
 
 
 
 
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